MANILA — As various witnesses against detained Senator Leila de Lima denied having personal knowledge of her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade, the prosecution introduced in court on Friday the affidavits previously executed by kidnapping convict and alleged drug lord Jaybee Sebastian.
Sebastian died inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in July at age 40 allegedly due to COVID-19. His sudden death and immediate cremation raised suspicions among lawmakers and the public.
Considered a key witness in the conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade case against De Lima, he was accused of running the illegal drug trade in NBP, supposedly to raise funds for De Lima’s then-senatorial bid.
Sebastian denied involvement in the illegal drug trade but he previously claimed he delivered money to the detained senator.
De Lima has denied the allegations.
Unable to present Sebastian in court, the prosecution presented lawyer Rigel Salvador from the Public Attorney’s Office instead.
Salvador notarized Sebastian’s affidavits executed on October 9, 2016 and the latest, on July 12, 2020, or a mere 6 days before Sebastian’s death on July 18.
NEW ALLEGATIONS IN JAYBEE SEBASTIAN’S NEW AFFIDAVIT
ABS-CBN News examined the new affidavit, compared it with his previous statements and found that new allegations were added.
In his July 2020 affidavit, Sebastian claimed he facilitated the delivery of P5 million between convicted drug lord Peter Co and then-Justice Secretary De Lima through then-Bureau of Corrections Officer in Charge Rafael Ragos on 2 occasions in November and December 2012.
In his October 2016 affidavit, he only mentioned allegedly giving De Lima P2 million in a paper bag in 2015 and P8 million more allegedly through De Lima’s aide Joenel Sanchez.
Facing the House hearing on the alleged Bilibid drug trade on October 10, 2016, Sebastian corrected then-Rep. Harry Roque that the amount he supposedly gave De Lima was only P2 million, not P5 million.
He did not mention any earlier transaction involving P5 million.
Sebastian also claimed in his July 2020 affidavit that Sanchez supposedly asked him to help De Lima raise funds for her candidacy in the 2013 senatorial elections, upon the instructions of Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former bodyguard.
De Lima, however, did not run in 2013 but in 2016.
In paragraph 10 of Sebastian’s July 2020 affidavit was a sentence crossed-out and countersigned by what appears to be Sebastian’s signature, which said: “Bukod sa balita na iyon noon pa, madalas ko din nakikita si Ronnie Dayan kasama si Sec. De Lima pag pumupunta sila sa New Bilibid Prisons. (Aside from that news, I would often see Ronnie Dayan with Sec. De Lima when they would go to the New Bilibid Prisons.)
No explanation was given by the prosecution based on court records examined by ABS-CBN News why the line was crossed out. The news team is seeking the side of the prosecution.
But Sebastian told House lawmakers during his October 10, 2016 testimony that he did not know Dayan, in response to Rep. Fredenil Castro’s question on whether Dayan was romantically linked to De Lima.
“Mahirap pong magsalita, hindi ko po kilala si Ronnie Dayan,” he said.
(It’s hard to say. I don’t know Ronnie Dayan.)
De Lima’s defense team had tried to block Salvador’s testimony saying this would deprive them of the opportunity to cross-examine Sebastian, who is already dead.
They also raised concerns that the prosecution wants “to present new pieces of evidence that include alleged documents, videos and pictures from and of deceased inmate, Jaybee Sebastian” that have not been previously shown to the court.
The prosecution cited as legal basis a new provision under the recent Revised Rules of Court which allows a lawyer to testify regarding a “communication relevant to an issue concerning an attested document to which the lawyer is an attesting witness.”
That provision however refers to exceptions to privileged communications when a lawyer may still testify despite lawyer-client privilege.
The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 allowed Salvador’s testimony to identify Sebastian’s affidavit.
On cross-examination through an online hearing Friday, Salvador admitted he does not have personal knowledge about the contents of Sebastian’s affidavit, according to De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon.
“Inamin niya na hindi naman siya ang gumawa ng nasabing Salaysay ni Jaybee Sebastian at ang tangi niyang partisipasyon dito ay ang magnotaryo lang. Pinatotoo niya na hindi niya alam ang laman nito at hindi niya alam kung lahat ng nakasaad dito ay totoo. Ang tanging sinabi niya ay nakita niya na pinirmahan ito ni Jaybee sa harapan niya at ang salaysay na yun ay malaya daw na ginawa ni Jaybee,” he said.
(He admitted he did not draft the statement of Jaybee Sebastian and that his only participation was to notarize the affidavit. He affirmed that he doesn’t know the contents and he is not aware if all the statements are true. He only said he saw Jaybee freely sign the affidavit in front of him.)
“Sa ganang amin, klarong-klaro na wala syang personal knowledge tungkol sa mga nilalaman ng salaysay ni Jaybee at siya lang talaga ang nagnotaryo,” he added.
(From our view, it was clear he did not have personal knowledge about the contents of the statement of Jaybee. He just notarized it.)
De Lima’s defense team insisted, all the statements in Sebastian’s affidavits are hearsay which are inadmissible as evidence and are not among the exceptions allowed under the rules on evidence for statements of dead persons to be accepted in court.
WITNESSES DENY PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF DE LIMA’S INVOLVEMENT IN ILLEGAL DRUG TRADE
The introduction of Sebastian’s affidavits comes as several witnesses, on cross-examination, cleared De Lima of any involvement, according to her lawyers.
Tacardon said that on cross-examination Friday, convicted drug lord Vicente Sy retracted his earlier statement that he gave De Lima drug money.
“Si Vicente Sy naman ay tumestigo at sinabi niya na nag-ambag daw siya ng halagang 500k para daw sa kampanya ni Senator De Lima noong 2012. Pero sa aming pagtatanong sinabi niya na kailanman ay hindi siya nagbigay ng pera kay Senator De Lima at sinabi rin niya na hindi niya kilala si De Lima,” he said.
(Vicente Sy testified that he gave P500,000 to Senator De Lima in 2012. But upon questioning, he said that he never gave money to De Lima and that he did not know De Lima.)
In her bid to post bail, the senator previously said the convicts who testified against her – Nonilo Arile, Hans Anton Tan, and Peter Co – neither claimed participation nor personal knowledge of the illegal drug trade.
Peter Co, who executed an affidavit and testified in Congress after he was stabbed in Bilibid, revealed in court that the alleged deliveries of money was not for De Lima but for former Bureau of Corrections OIC Rafael Ragos and other BuCor officials.
The money was supposedly in exchange for “special requests” such as lavish “kubols” and entry of goods and services like music bands, Mocha girls, and liquor inside the Maximum Security Compound – none of which involved illegal drugs.
Ragos was initially charged but was dropped from the case when the information was amended, after he was admitted to the DOJ’s witness protection program.
He claimed he received money from convict Tan and upon Tan’s instructions, delivered these on 2 occasions to De Lima’s house in Parañaque together with his subordinate, NBI intelligence Agent Jovencio Ablen, supposedly as her share in the illegal drug trade.
But De Lima’s lawyers pointed out that Ragos never mentioned this in his original affidavit executed in December 2016 where he also denied any drug dealings inside the NBP nor any conspiracy with De Lima.
At various points, Ragos would admit to delivering the money but denying knowledge as to the source to later on fully acknowledging the money came from certain Bilibid inmates supposedly for De Lima’s campaign.
In October, 2 officials from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) cleared De Lima of any involvement in the alleged illegal drug trade in Bilibid.
AMLC’s Artemio Baculi told the same court in September in De Lima’s other drug case that there were no funds that went into the bank accounts of De Lima and co-accused Jose Adrian Dera while PDEA’s Kristal Caseñas said on the witness stand in October that there were no illegal drug trade transactions between Dera and De Lima based on the cellphone extraction report.
De Lima had long questioned the credibility of witnesses presented against her in congressional hearings and in court, saying most are convicts who have been given perks to testify against her.
Friday’s hearing was the last chance given by Muntinlupa RTC Br. 205 Judge Liezl Liezel Aquiatan for the prosecution to present their evidence in the drug case involving De Lima and Dayan.
The prosecution is also set to finish presenting evidence in another drug case before the same judge.
De Lima has been in jail since her arrest on drug charges in February 2017.
She earlier questioned the change in the charge from “illegal sale of dangerous drugs” when it was filed in February 2017 to “attempt or conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading” in November 2017.
She has filed motions for bail in the 2 drug cases in the same court. A third drug case is pending in another Muntinlupa court.
De Lima has also sought to junk the disobedience to summons case pending before a Quezon City court over her alleged “inducement” of Dayan not to attend a House probe on the illegal drug trade.